A MONTH OF MAGIC: Hero Complex is counting down to the Nov. 19 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1” — the penultimate film in the history-making “Potter” franchise — with exclusive interviews, photos, videos and reports from the set. Now, Hero Complex writer Noelene Clark interviews Barry Wilkinson, the prop master in charge of guarding a mountain of magical items and gear.
Barry Wilkinson, prop master for all eight “Harry Potter” films, might know the wizarding world better than anyone. He’s handled thousands of Potter props — brooms, quills, potions and all manner of magical items — over the course of a decade. Just for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the two-part franchise finale, Wilkinson had more than 500 wands manufactured.
“Everyone’s got their own continuity wand, even down to the Death Eaters,” Wilkinson said. “All the principal characters have their own wands, and they’re all listed and accounted for, and it’s an amazing system. And each wand is individual. It’s an incredible job just designing those and to keep trying to think up different designs for wands, but when you look at them, they are just totally different.”
Then, Wilkinson said, there are the duplicates: back-up wands for main characters, rubber wands for stunt work, “fast-cast” wands for background shots and more generic wands for crowd scenes. Factor in the previous films and Ollivander’s Wand Shop, which was fully stocked, and the wand count easily reaches the thousands.
“Each one’s got a number, and it’s checked out and it’s checked in at the end of each day,” Wilkinson said. “We have some broken, but they’re all accounted for, and we have to make notes of and keep records of everything.”
Wilkinson, who won BAFTA’s Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema award in 2008, is no stranger to supernatural movie props. He was property master for “Labyrinth” and Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” as well as “The Fifth Element.”
“I enjoyed those films because they were different,” Wilkinson said. “And that was very good getting all that stuff together with Mr. Spielberg and everything. Of course, it wasn’t such a big designing job prop-wise as these Potters have been. It’s just the amount of items in the film and the precision of what we have to get made.”
The props seem to have evolved as the story has darkened. The first film featured Quidditch equipment and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. The two-part finale will focus on Horcruxes and Deathly Hallows — props that Wilkinson says he can’t yet discuss in detail.
Working on those props took a lot of “sitting round the tables and discussing, and there were numerous designs for those going backward and forward,” he said. “They’re such special items, and there’s so much [that] goes into it. They’re all designed and drawn up really before they come down to us to start getting manufactured. … They play such a vital part — and all the props do in this series of films — that they’re really done quite differently from other movies.”
Now, after 10 years of work on the Hogwarts films, Wilkinson and his team are charged with dismantling the world they helped create. “We’ve got this huge task of packing everything away,” he said. “At the moment, we’ve got 104 containers full of props and set dressings, which have now got to be lifted and archived and accounted for.” For Wilkinson, who’s become accustomed to breaks of less than 10 weeks between films, the movies seem like one massive undertaking rather than individual projects. “We’ve worked on them for so long, it’s very hard now just to decipher from one film to the next, and it all blends in as one huge project,” he said. “It’s a shame. We wish they could go on again, but it’s been a real marvelous achievement and a marvelous project to work on, you know? Myself and all my team are really proud to have worked on it.”
Wilkinson said he and his team reflect on the series and all its behind-the-scenes workings with awe. “We don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of this series of movies again, not for a while anyway,” Wilkinson said. “It’s just a fantastic franchise. It’s just gone on and on, and got bigger and better. When you see this stuff and you walk on the set, and you know your men have dressed them, you’re just all so proud of it, because everything does look absolutely wonderful, right down to the boys’ dormitory, the detail, the stuff that the set decorator puts there, the Great Hall, the Common Room, and you know, the stuff when we’ve been out looking for props and finding them. It’s been amazing.”
– Noelene Clark
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